Remember when actor Christopher Reeve was Superman in the movies? Strong, healthy, muscular and athletic, not to mention handsome. That was before being thrown from a horse in 1995 leaving him quadriplegic – paralyzed from the neck down. In every photo of Reeve in his wheelchair you can see that the only thing he could move was his eyes.
But one other thing appeared in all the photos: his wife Dana, a talented actress, singer and writer with a career of her own. She was standing behind him all the way. He had been a perfect specimen when she married him, as well as a huge earner. She supported him and his foundation until his death in 2004.
There are probably many books on the subject of marriage. The most important chapter should be “In Sickness and In Health.” That’s the chapter that separates true love from convenience or infatuation. Or, as they say in the locker rooms, separates the men from the boys. Or, I suppose, separates the women from the girls.
The test of sickness and health may come up early in the marriage, or more likely, after many years of marriage.
We see examples of spouses who are put to the test early on. The wars we have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan and recently, Syria, have resulted in many American casualties. Those who are married come home to spouses confronted with the challenge of caring for a wounded warrior and the challenge of remembering their oath to love in sickness and in health. Making it worse, the wounds may be more mental than physical. Those who are strong enough and loyal enough to deliver and carry out the oath are heroic in doing what they never anticipated. There ought to be a medal. Those spouses need support as much as the wounded warriors themselves.
Of course, much the same bravery is required by spouses dealing with other health challenges of accidents or disease.
Braver yet are those who take the oath knowing of pre-existing health problems that may require spousal care.
In the later years of marriage, the test comes up more often. Since, on the average, women live longer than men, women are more often tested to confront their old oath. After many years together, the marriage has changed and gone through many stages. The early years of romance are largely over, children, if any, have grown, the “richer or poorer” stage has passed with varying levels of challenges and satisfaction and the relationship has evolved as tests of loyalty, friendship, companionship, respect, commitment, compromise and the give and take of years of living together have reshaped the couple.
Then along comes a stroke, heart attack, a disease or an accident and one of the spouses has to step up and really care – until, possibly, the end. The duty to care in sickness and in health is probably the ultimate test of love. The next time you attend a wedding, think of that as you listen to the exchange of promises between husband and wife.
In the alternative, for those living together without marriage or an oath, the test of in sickness or in health may be the ultimate loophole.